Sunday, March 23, 2014

This single life

I can't believe that the Six Nations has come and gone and I haven't had time for a quick blog. It was a great tournament with a really exciting new England side. We didn't win the tournament but we took home the Calcutta Cup, the Triple Crown and our very own Wiltshire boy, Mike Brown, won player of the tournament. Bring on the Rugby World Cup, we are ready!

One of the reasons I haven't had time to blog much, or indeed work on my next book, is because I have had to go back to work full time, not by choice but by necessity.  The law in this country stacks the cards against the single parent. Having previously spent most of our joint income on raising our children, the Ex is now only required to give me the equivalent a day's pay. He earns more in a week than I do in a month, yet I am still expected to shoulder the lion's share of the burden of paying for our children, hence the need to return to full time work.  Although I have always worked, bar a few years when we trotted around the world with him in the good old days of the film industry when they put you up in nice hotels or apartments, it is a long time since I have worked full time. It has been a bit of a shock to the system and for the past two weeks my house has looked, for all intents and purposes, as if it has been burgled. I could really do with a cleaner and someone to do my ironing as I don't get home much before 6.45pm but there is no money for that.

Lack of time aside, I have been lucky to land a great though not spectacularly well paid job working in child protection. It makes me realise just how many feckless parents there are who are completely unable to prioritise their children's needs above their own. I know all about that!

A year, post-separation, I am loving life and the new found freedom I have. No more walking on eggshells, no more pandering to someone else's moods, the children are happier and we have made our lives as a unit of three, not four. We have no contact with The Ex's family, all bar one of whom didn't even bother to send us a Christmas card. Bizarre behaviour after 23 years. His tenuous grasp of the truth means that I have had to suffer emails from his siblings asking what I have done with all his money (a few home truths were exchanged on that one!) and constant excuses for his shabby behaviour. To be honest, I'm bored with it all.

The Ex remains nothing more than an occasional visitor in the lives of his children and to be honest, we quite like it that way. He barely knows his children any more, who are more inclined to send his calls straight to voicemail than answer them. They didn't even acknowledge his birthday. Statistics show that 1 in 4 children lose contact with the absent parent within two years of separation and we are well on the way to that. But who is the loser? Not us. The Boy and Girl have been saving their  money to take me out for lunch on Mother's Day, the Girl and I went on a road trip to Brighton to see Haim and I've just booked tickets to see Elbow at the 02 in London with a friend.  I am back in contact with many old friends and my free time, such as it is between ferrying the children around, is my own to do with what I like without having to ask anyone else's permission.

My ukulele group continues to be a source of huge joy and friendship and as we are becoming better known, the requests for gigs are coming thick and fast. I love the gigs. They are so much fun! Last night we did a charity gig for WaterAid in Bath.  It helps me channel my inner rock chick!

The future feels very positive, despite the financial strictures of being a single parent and the emotional strain of being the only parent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I feel I have re-found the real me. The one who loves new adventures, loves to laugh and believes that life is for living, not merely existing. The past year has also empowered me to ditch other people in my life who were dragging me down so what I'm left with is a fabulous core of truly great people. If you are one of them, thank  you!

The idea of being single in your middle years can fill some people with horror but I'm here to tell you that it's actually pretty great. My children are spreading their wings, getting ready to fly the nest and make their own mark on the world and I am ready to write the next chapter of my life story.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot...It's Six Nations Time...! So here's my Girl's Guide to Rugby

WARNING: This blogpost has naked men and shameless sexism!

Yes, it's that time of year again, the start of the Six Nations. Long-time readers of my blog will know that I love rugby, well England rugby really. I went to the very first rugby world cup in Australia, got inadvertently tackled by an All Black in Bahrain - and I didn't spill my beer - and have sat on Murray Mexted's shoulders and sung 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. I forget why now but he played No. 8 for the All Blacks and was very tall and the rugby club had a very low ceiling.

So that all you lovely people can share in my love of the Truly Beautiful Game, here is my Girl's Guide to Rugby which gives you all you need to enjoy the Six Nations.

The Game:

Firstly there are two types of rugby. Rugby League is generally played by rugged northerners who think that Rugby Union is only played by effete ex-public schoolboys and have never really forgiven Jason Robinson for giving up League to play Union for England. I mean, it's not what tough young blokes from Leeds do is it? Rugby League teams only have 13 players, probably because they've all gone South to play proper rugby. Rugby Union, or proper rugby as I like to call it,  is played by two teams of 15 brawny men with well muscled thighs and six packs that would make a lesser man weep.  They play with a funny shaped ball, which leads to countless double entendres, and which neither rolls or bounces straight. If you think it's going left you can almost guarantee it will go right. Mind you, predictability of bounce doesn't seem to help England's footballers that much.

The aim of the game is to get the ball over your try line or, if you don't have the ball, stop the other team getting it across theirs. This can be done either by fair means or foul depending on whether the referee is looking. The try line is the line underneath the funny H-shaped sticks at each end of the field. But, just to make it a bit more interesting, you can't throw the ball forward. Yes, I know, it makes no sense. You are trying to get the ball up the field but you have to throw it backwards. If you do throw it forward, that's a forward pass (obviously) and you will be penalised, unless you are French of course, which might mean you have to have a scrum. That's a sort of rugby 'group hug' which is the best place to spot a well-muscled thigh, or occasionally, as they tend to hang on to each other's shorts, a flash of firm buttock. Scrums tend to be very popular with the ladies. Just to make things more interesting though, you can kick the ball up the field.

You can stop your opponent getting the ball over the try line by tackling him. Tackling takes many different forms but all of them are painful. Rugby, like love, hurts. You can't tackle people above the shoulder or pick them up and dump them headfirst on the ground. The referee tends not to like that and will generally rummage around in his pocket and pull out a piece of red cardboard. This means that you have to go back to the dressing room and can't play in the match anymore. You will also be a symbol of loathing to rugby pundits the world over who will denounce this unacceptable play which just 'isn't rugby'.

When you get the ball over the try line, most of the opposition, and a few of your own team will jump on you, making a sort of human Jenga. That will hurt too. If the try is awarded, then the glory boy can come on and try and kick the ball through the sticks which will give you extra points. The glory boy is often easily identifiable as the one with hardly any mud on his shirt. Whether or not the glory boy manages to get the ball through the sticks, there will be comparisons with The God Jonny Wilkinson, either in the form of 'Jonny would have got that' or 'well,yes, that was good, but Jonny was better.'

Scoring:  You score 5 points for a try and then if you kick the ball over the sticks you get another 2 points for a conversion. Converting what to what has never been entirely clear. You can also get 3 points for a drop goal, which is when you pick up the ball mid-match and try and kick it through the sticks. Generally they miss and it is almost impossible to mention a drop goal without mentioning Rob Andrew and The God Jonny Wilkinson in the same breath. Those were two of the finest drop goals in England Rugby history.


Try - that's when you get the ball over that line I was talking about. No-one really knows why it is called a try when you have actually succeeded.

Conversion - see scoring above
Penalty - the best way to score points without doing anything. Wind up the opposition so they get really mad and break lots of rules

Drop kick - Aahh, Jonny... sorry, a drop kick can be taken at any point in the game but the ball must touch the ground first before you kick it.

Knock on - this is when a player fumbles the ball then drops it and knocks it forward. Well you try hanging on to a muddy, greasy egg shaped ball!

Rucks and Mauls - these generally resemble playground scraps in inner city comprehensives or kick out time at a Cardiff nightclub.  In a ruck, the ball is on the ground, usually under a pile of bodies, which means that you can't touch it with your hands. You have to 'ruck' it out with your feet. And no, I don't know why. That's just the rules. In a maul, the ball is off the ground and the players have to stay on their feet. A rolling maul is when the players try to push the ball up the field, with players breaking off and rejoining at the back. It's a bit like a manic version of The Locomotion.  You can get a right telling off for collapsing a maul. Others players can join in the bundle but only from the back. If they join from the side the ref will blow his whistle and give the other team a penalty. However, in the thick of it, anything goes. It's not unusual for eyes to be gouged or body parts bitten off in a ruck or a maul

The scrum - Scrums involve eight players from each team in a 3-4-1 formation. In the front row you have a hooker.... no, no! Not that sort of hooker. The hooker is the player who is responsible for  hooking the ball out with his foot. And if his knee happens to make contact with the opposing hooker, accidentally  of course, so much the better. He is supported by two props, who, well prop him up really. behind him are a bunch of big, heavy blokes whose job it is to push.  They all kneel down and then the second row of the scrum put their hands through the legs of the front row and hang on to their todger. The last row then does the same to the second row. This is possibly what made it so popular in public schools, that and the communal baths after the match. The ref will shout instructions for the team to engage in the scrum. The instructions change with alarming regularity, as do the rules of the scrum but whatever happens, the props will generally use this as an opportunity to give their opposition numbers a playful punch or dead arm.  On the shout of Set, they will hurl themselves together like rutting stags with lots of grunting.  The scrum half will feed the ball into the hooker who will try and hook the ball through his legs and out of the back of the scrum to their team mates. A scrum is no place for the faint-hearted or those who are easily provoked. There is often a lot of conversation in the scrums, often along the lines of 'I'd like to give your wife/girlfriend/mother/dog one'.  At the end of some tournaments, the front rows often comment wryly that their opposite number talked to them more during the scrums than their wives had in the previous ten years.

The Players:

The team is split into two halves. The forwards and the backs.

The backs, all eight of them,  are the pretty boys of the team, often fleet of foot and able to get through an entire game without getting a hair out of place. They generally don't have noses or ears resembling a box full of organic vegetables. They are often very fast. South Africa's Brian Habana very nearly outran a cheetah and probably would have if they'd made the cheetah carry a rugby ball too. Their job is to kick and run the ball up the field while preventing the opposing backs from doing the same.

The forwards are the engine room of the team and like most engine rooms are not that attractive to look at and tend to smell a bit.  They will have flat noses and ears that stick out at alarming angles with all manner of lumps and bumps on them. They generally have thighs like tree trunks and are definitely more attractive from behind than from the front. Their job is to ruck, maul, scrummage push and shove and win the ball for the backs. Forwards have occasionally been known to score tries but they often look like hippopotamuses lumbering across the plains. They are man mountains, most towering well over 6 feet. Simon Shaw was 6' 8, a mere minnow compared to Martin Bayfield's 6'10 and Scotland's Richard Metcalfe, who stood at 7' tall.

The Teams

England. They generally wear white and have a nice little rose on their kit.

Italy - they always come last.

The rest... Gah! Who cares!

And just to finish up here's a totally gratuitous photo of James Haskell naked, and let's face it, you (or do I mean me?) can never get enough.

Never Google 'naked rugby players' - it's
not for the faint-hearted!